photo by: Randee St. Nicholas

Follow My Way

Hello, I know there’s someone out there who can understand and who’s feeling the same way as me.

Did you know there are 24 different guitar chords used in that song – “Preaching the End of the World”?
Let me explain…

20 years ago (9/21/1999), Chris Cornell released his debut solo record, Euphoria Morning. The concept of a solo record can be quite mysterious. What does “solo” mean? Is it that the band the artist was in broke up and now the singer just went off on their own? Is it the real and more advanced version of the artist? Does it mean it’s only one person on the entire record? Is it – this is all I have left now? Is it an attempt to explore another genre? Or is it simply – I have something different to say. This is my voice.

To me, a solo record is defined as … Chris Cornell’s Euphoria Morning – a true embodiment of a voice with something to say.

So, if you’re finding you are feeling just the same…. Follow my way when I’m not leading anyone. Open and frayed when you can see that I am unsure.

album cover photo by: Randee St. Nicholas

September 1999: I’m a young freshman in college and a wannabe DJ at WBTY college radio. The station was based out of a glorified closet on campus, filled with CD’s, a control board and shaky signal that broadcasted througout town. I had forced myself into a Tuesday lunchtime on-air shift without a clue of what I was doing.

As college began for me, my initial reaction was not one of liberation where the doors were falling open and I was flying wild. It was all, “Am I in the right place? Did I make the right decision? What am I doing here? Is this enough for me?”

The only exception was when I’d slide through the WBTY doors. I was alone in my shift, in total control with all this music at my fingertips, and a microphone to find my voice and say whatever I wanted. But there was a moment before that enabled it all to happen. If you would…

Follow me down into a swan dive
All eyes closed tight.

photo by: Randee St. Nicholas

The studio walls contained two floor-to-ceiling windows. The day I first found the station, I decided to walk in, introduce myself and inquire about how I can get involved. I locate the building WBTY called home, made my way to the dark floor and immediately walked right past the station. You see, it was in a wing that was never full of life during those days – basically, the storage arm of the basement. So, I backpedal, take a sharp left and notice nobody was there. But the front door was open, and with scotch tape stuck to all four corners, there was a Chris Cornell Euphoria Morning promotional poster adhered to the side window.

I take that back – there was someone or something there during my first visit. My eyes quickly went away from the wall of records, and switchboard covered in punk rock stickers, and I fixated on this blue poster of Cornell. He looked different – not your usual intimidating Soundgarden frontman in a Jesus Christ Pose, but a more pensive, friendly, yet vulnerable Cornell with a yellow, sun-resembling radiance joining the image. I just stared at this poster for what must have been 10-minutes straight. “Featuring ‘Can’t Change Me’”, it read.

The irony was, while what Cornell was singing in the lead single is true, “She’s going to change the world, but she can’t change me”, being 18 or 19-years-old is the perfect time to innovate yourself. I walked into the studio and found the CD sitting by itself on the desk at the back of the room. I grabbed it, sat down in the dark and slowly flipped through.

“The embers of the saint inside of you
Are growing as I’m bathing in your glow
I’m swallowing the poison of your flower
And hanging on the rising of my low.”

Months before, I had heard “Can’t Change Me” as an introduction to this new Chris Cornell work, and I didn’t really know what to think of it. It was a strange time in the history of this Seattle music boom. Soundgarden had broken up in April of 1997, but did anyone really understand why? Matt Cameron had joined Pearl Jam in 1998 and Cornell had the gem of a song “Sunshower” in the film Great Expectations, but wait – was Soundgarden all of sudden really gone? What just happened?

Before all the outlets that are now available to us, it was a fair question to ask and wonder – when/where/how will we see Cornell again? Until the tide comes crawling back…

And then it was “Can’t Change Me”. A total departure from the howls of “Loud Love” or the heaviness of an “Outshined”. What captivated me with this record from the moment I first grabbed the booklet was the images of Cornell that went along with it. Specifically, the photo of Cornell sitting on a bed with his hands folded, head tilted down and a black cat looking you right in the eye.

photo by: Olaf Heine

Whoa. These photos screamed – “I have a lot going on right now, here’s how I feel and here’s what I have to say about it.” The original title of the album was Euphoria Mourning, but the label had it changed to Morning (it would be re-released as Mourning in 2015). Either way, when you lay out the record promo shots, they all embody this deep emotion of honesty, artistry and … solo record.

Then, for 51 minutes Cornell in his own way, tells you about it. The lyrics are poetic and so-well thought out you would think he painted every word upon canvas before laying them to song. His vocals – of course carry the signature Cornell tones that define the voice of a generation and an artist for all time. They rise from your ashes and kneel in your payers, go high when Cornell gets sentimental and hit a scratchy-low baritone at the peaks of bravery. Speaking of canvases, did you ever see Cornell sing “When I’m Down” live? I liken it to the awe of watching Picasso paint.

You say that midnight opens its arms to me
Leaving you alone, and then I fly so far away
Until the light blurs my vision and I have nowhere to roam

photo by: Olaf Heine

The answer here is quite simple – Euphoria Morning taught me that music and the arts can be an outlet of self-expression. It can be an immeasurable companion that flexes into whatever role you desire, thus … the art of self expression.

During my first shift on-air I played Euphoria Morning in full. Shortly after, I learned how to play guitar – only so I could write songs about anything on my mind. I also started writing in notebooks. Not so much diary-style, but more so serving as a catchers mitt to absorb any idea or thought that I wanted to let loose. To this day, I go through at least two notebooks per year and have them all categorized in my grandfather’s army trunk.

I really listened to what Cornell was saying on Euphoria Morning, (still do) and furthermore, was deeply affected by how he personally delivered the message straight from the heart. 

There are little nuances with such profound detail – like, the dramatic reverse guitar strum that ends “Can’t Change Me” or the way Cornell emotes during the final “meeee” in the bridge of “Preaching the End of the World.”  It taught me about the power of self and the freedoms of vulnerability. It showed me how at 18-years old, recognizing your dark corners and understanding your emotions can sometimes lead to, “Suddenly I can see everything that’s wrong with me. What can I do I am the only thing I really have…. at all.” And that’s perfectly OK. There’s a world of creativity to explore, and when you yield to that, you’re on a mission now. You may bleed on the hands of the ones who nailed you down and vanish when the curtains drawn, but that sweet euphoria will come again, and…  “you will let me in and you’ll see I’ll never disappear for long.”

Cornell wrote track number seven, “Wave Goodbye” as a tribute to his friend – the late, great Jeff Buckley. Here I am writing this Euphoria Morning piece as a tribute to Cornell. By no means do I dare compare his writing to Buckley to mine, it’s just my way of saying thank you… because “give in to what you feel over what you see.” Euphoria Morning is a moonflower – you could bloom forever in the hour.

In conclusion I leave you with this – perhaps my favorite lyric of all-time.

Well I know you’re reaching out and you need to feel my hand
You want to be understood, Yeah, well I understand.

photo by: Randee St. Nicholas

Tomorrow: part two of our 20th anniversary of Euphoria Morning – an interview with the record’s producer, collaborator and friend, Alain Johannes.